Alex quietly bobbed to the surface the water just when he felt he couldn’t exhale any longer and would drown only a few feet from the surface.
Exhausted and gasping, he floated on his back and drank the fresh air into his lungs. Thus far, he was feeling no signs of decompression, or the bends, as they were known. Nevertheless, that didn’t mean he could dismiss it as a serious concern. The first indications were usually a deep pain in the joints of the arms and legs, and could take minutes, or even hours, to become apparent. Still, he had fair odds of getting away clean.
The nitrogen gas in the bloodstream that caused the bends tended to accumulate in fatty tissue, and so he had worked hard to stay in peak shape for more reasons than just impressing the women at the gym.
He took a few moments to recoup, aware he couldn’t spare too many more. Not safely, anyway. The boat was nowhere in sight, but it was almost certain that the water was being scanned for signs of his reappearance; he wasn’t sure if it would be from the beach, the boat, or both. Whichever it may be, he wasn’t going to let himself be seen. At least, not just yet.
He glanced around to get his bearings, then double checked them on his compass, having no idea how far he’d drifted from the dive site, or which direction the current might have taken him in. He quickly noticed however, that he was within five hundred yards of the southeastern edge of the swamp. And there, standing all by its tall lonely self, was a cypress. Perhaps the same one he had marked, what seemed so long ago.
The boat wasn’t anywhere in sight, not that he’d expected it to be, but that was good.
He could guess where Jack had taken it.
His breath slowing and almost regular, Alex allowed himself another twenty seconds to recover his strength. He reached into his satchel for the eight inch J-snorkel he’d separated from his spare oxygen canister before ditching it, and put the mouthpiece between his lips.
He turned face down and lowered his head underwater, blew into the snorkel to make sure it was clear, and began to swim towards the shore. His legs loose and straight behind him his fins stroked smoothly, gliding unseen beneath the surface of the lake.
It was, he thought, a bad run of snake eyes; he’d been set up twice in as many days. In both instances he had felt bound to confront his opposition when it was their two against his one. And this time he couldn’t count on Pete popping up out of nowhere to even the odds.
Crouched low in a clump of palmetto palms, and perhaps five yards behind the cypress he had seen from the boat, Alex could just hear Carrone and Jack working out a cover story to account for his disappearance. It wasn’t perfect, but then it didn’t have to be.
Obstinate, know–it-all-city-boy, Alex Oliver had been diving for weeks without letting modest, conscientious local boy Jack Thibodeaux properly check and maintain his scuba equipment. And since a tender couldn’t do his job if the diver insisted on being foolhardy, Jack had given up tryin’ to argue the point with him. Divers had gotten into bad fixes through their own carelessness before and it would surely happen again in the future, they reasoned between them while ironing out their story.
If Oliver’s body didn’t turn up, that would be that.
In the unlikely event that it happened to float ashore before the scavenging crabs and catfish picked it clean from the bones, why even an honest investigator would determine that Alex had died from an out-of –air accident due to instrument failure. This, of course, would be based on the post mortem exam of the faulty reading on his psi gauge. Why suspect the gauge had been tampered with by his partner, when there was no evidence of a prior falling out between those two? Indeed, when any of the dealers whom they regularly did business with, would attest that the two appeared to get along well as a team.
The questions and answers continued between them while Alex steadily narrowed the distance.
Considering that Jack would be telling his pile of homespun horseshit to the sheriff, or one of his deputies, and would have Carrone signing off on it as well, meant he could probably tell them anything. He could say that Alex’s fate had come from an attack by a swamp monster, alien abduction, or head-on collision with the ghost ship of Blue Beard, and get away with it.
No sweat; It could work.
Alex looked and listened from the concealment of the brush. In their own way, they were good, he thought, the only monkey in the wrench of their scheme being he was better and savvier. His mistake - and he acknowledged it was a significant one - was underestimating how far Jack could be pushed to turn on him.
Alex had known that Jack had had his weaknesses, and they had never quite been great friends, but they had always gotten on all right as partners.
Much as he disliked admitting it to himself, he’d started out as being a cop with a deep-rooted core of positivism. And some rudiments of that attitude remained stubbornly lodged inside him, despite having spent years exploring the darkest alleys of human nature. He had been hesitant to think the worst of his partner, and had almost paid for it - big-time. With his life.